Understanding the Mysterious Asian Culture

In Conversations
A conversation about common Asian-American misconceptions.

Being an Asian-American, I have vast experience with Asian culture. However, most of the people that I talk to have little understanding of Asian culture. Most of the questions I am asked start with either, “Why do you do this?” or “What is the point of that?”. People want to be educated about it, but haven’t had the opportunity or resources to learn more. Well here I am, a helpful resource, to answer a few common questions and explain vital aspects of  Asian culture. Along with including my opinion on these questions, I also asked my best friend Branden, who is Chinese, to give his viewpoint on these questions and stereotypes.

Are your parents strict?

This overarching and generic question can be asked of any person. However, it is asked of Asians most of the time due to the stereotype of “tiger parenting”. The short answer that I use when I am asked this question out of the blue is, “Sometimes, but for the most part they just want me to get the grades that are required for me to advance forward in life.” This may seem like a very lengthy answer, but I have skipped over quite a few details. For example, why are Asian parents stereotypically seen as being stricter with their kids? This all leads back to “tiger parenting”: the stereotype that Asian parents control their children’s activities and actions to ensure that children strive to succeed in life–by the parents’ own standards, rather than the child’s.

While my parents are more lenient, some parents are not. Take my best friend Branden. Same basic backgrounds. Asian-American boys with two Asian parents. I asked him this question–are your parents strict?–and this is what he had to say: “Yes. Both grade wise and in terms of what we can do. My parents have a large ego, and always consider themselves correct and seem to need to have that feeling of directly controlling their kids’ lives. They have made class decisions, extracurricular decisions, and their strict rules about going out, especially at night, often served as a barrier to my ability to hang out with friends. Also, although they eventually stopped nagging me because of my persistence and defense of myself, my parents were strict about my grades and expected high grades in the most rigorous class load possible.” This is a very different point of view that may not be expected by non-Asian people.  

What is your parents’ opinion about your grades in school?

This is another common question. The traditional Asian stereotype is that all Asians have great grades and are very academically centered. Now that there are more Asian-Americans, parents’ opinions about good grades are more varied than ever. In my family, grades have been a priority like in any other Asian family. However, if I don’t get A’s, my family won’t beat me, contrary to belief. Despite this leniency, I still strive for high grades even though I may not receive the same punishment. My parents don’t treat me like other traditional Chinese parents because of the way they were raised. Both my parents were born in the United States and understand that not everyone is perfect in school, so as a result they won’t be as hard on me as traditional parents who believe that school is life and you need to get all A’s.

My friend Branden had a similar response: “They think my grades aren’t good enough and that I’m so smart yet I don’t try. But the reality is, given my multiple academic and non-academic constraints, I always give everything I have, and at the end of the day, I’m satisfied with my grades as long as I give my all.” In this particular aspect, we are pretty similar.

Why can’t you have a sleepover?

This is a common question that I heard growing up. All my friends were talking about hanging out and having sleepovers, while I was wondering why my parents kept telling me, “No, you can’t go sleep at Joseph’s house for the night.” As I got older I learned more about my culture and myself, then figured it out. The main reason, I believe, has to do with how sons are viewed in the culture. Asian sons are the prized possession of an Asian mother and father. On the other hand, Asian daughters are not as prized as sons are, and as a result, more Asian girls are adopted than boys. Given I was the only son and only child, my parents didn’t understand how letting me sleep over at a friend’s house was safe or made any sense. They have come around now, but it took some time.

Why are Asians stereotyped to be good at math?

A very common stereotype of Asians is that they are good at math, similar to the stereotype that African Americans are the best at athletics. There have been times when people come up and ask me to help them with math. However, it is quite the opposite, as I am one of the worst people at math, but I get asked anyway. I have a theory about why Asians are believed to be good at math.  Asians memorize characters and the strokes to make the characters, so this helps with memorizing formulas. This stereotype can be good sometimes, since people can assume that you are smarter than you actually are.

Branden expands on this: “There’s a long lasting stereotype embedded in many societies that Asians are smarter and more hardworking than everyone else. I’d perhaps attribute that to the Asian culture of parents needing to obtain a good reputation via their kid’s performance within the classroom. Asians seem to have always had to feel like the best, feel like they’re rising above everyone else, and that dates back to many centuries ago when the Chinese erroneously thought of themselves as the center of the universe. As a result of this need to be the best students in the classroom that their “tiger parents” instilled in them, these children obviously had more academic success than their peers, who were often from other backgrounds and weren’t pushed as hard.” He goes on the state that Asians are often mistaken for not understanding English, which further perpetuates the stereotype that they are only able to succeed in the maths and sciences because of their ethnicity.

This idea of the Chinese feeling like they were the center of the universe in the olden days is an unexpected fresh perspective. As seen from two different perspectives, the “Asians are good at math” stereotype is the most common stereotype that people remember.   

 Why are Asians usually quiet?

This is a pretty common thing to see with Asians, whether they grew up in or outside the United States. Asians are usually characterized as non-charismatic, shy, and straight up quiet compared to other races. Why is that? For starters, the culture. In Asian culture, quietness and silence are huge characteristics. Asians don’t believe in useless talking that isn’t helpful to the conversation. Another reason that I believe Asians are quiet has to do with the level of respect given to others, specifically elders. I have experienced this many times before. When there are elders around, you are expected to listen to what they are saying and do it since they are supposedly wiser and know what’s best. While this may not be true all the time, since it is especially prevalent in Asian culture, it becomes ingrained in the brains of Asian kids to be quiet and don’t speak out of turn. I have made it a priority to break this stereotype at certain times. Whenever I am playing sports for example, I try to be one of the louder people on the court or field. But now and again, my “Asian quietness” kicks in, which can be a good thing sometimes! It can be a good thing when I don’t want to stand out as much, or am trying to figure and read people and see how they react to me. Then I can be quiet and no one will question it.

Branden gives a differing opinion: “I wouldn’t necessarily agree that Asians are usually quiet. Maybe they are in some situations in America due to the phenomenon of white supremacy, so Asians don’t feel like they belong with Caucasians in Western culture and thus they don’t speak. Historically, it can certainly be argued that Caucasians in America were not inclusive of Asian immigrants and their descendants. But among themselves, I wouldn’t say Asians are necessarily quiet. It depends on the situation and their personalities.” While Branden does agree with the possibility of quietness being a cultural difference, he also twists the question to say that Caucasians were not as inclusive. Therefore, Asians were unable to speak and interact with their environment and became a product of it. The statement is true that Asian quietness depends on the situation and personalities.

These Asian culture questions have hopefully infused you with some knowledge about particulars in Asian culture. Sometimes, I feel like this type of informative piece is needed about Asian culture. When I write or tell people about Asian culture, I feel a sense of pride in my heritage and culture as well as in being an informative person who is raising awareness.

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